How Big Ideas Can Save Journalism

Since you are reading this blog, you already know that people have changed how they consume information.

Unfortunately, many companies have not kept up with those changes – newspapers included. This was the observation of Ethan Huffman, communications specialist for the Idaho National Laboratory and one of the speakers during Media Network Idaho’s workshop on “Communicating in a Changing World.”

Ethan used examples from several companies as part of his talk on “Inspired Thinking: How Big Ideas Can Save Journalism.”

He believes that journalism for a new era requires four things:

  1. Identifying opportunities
  2. Gathering journalists/publishers who have the best ideas
  3. Creating a sustainable profit model
  4. Building a robust network for access

But before that can happen, Ethan said we must understand the cultural limitations of newspapers. That cultural limitation is discussed by Malcom Gladwell in his books.

In the first half of the 1800s, journalism saw the birth and growth of the New York Post, Herald, Times and Tribune. He noted that they’ve exposed corruption and injustice and served as a checks and balance on government. But today digital content dominates.

Newspapers have existed for so long with a printed newspaper concept, Ethan said, “it’s a cultural barrier; it’s their legacy.”

In reviewing quality versus quantity, Ethan says it makes sense to move to all digital. “Printed isn’t cost effective,” he notes. For example the Detroit Free Press went completely digital and discovered it saved 30,000 miles per day on its fleet that delivered newspapers. Multiply those miles times the cost of gas and there is a considerable cost savings, especially given that by the time the newspapers were delivered, the news was old.

He suggests that newspapers ignore the arenas in which they can’t compete, namely breaking news, national sports and classifieds. Instead, Ethan says, they should focus on features, investigative journalism and science writing.

Newspapers also need to make their material mobile. He noted that only 20 newspapers are available on Kindle or the Nook and yet there are more than 500,000 books and hundreds of magazines available. “Newspapers aren’t keeping up,” he says.

A final observation Ethan made was for newspapers to establish an alliance.

  1. Turn competitors into allies
  2. Map a network of supporters
  3. Make the newspaper an experience
  4. Build fans, not customers

And while the audience that Ethan spoke to reads newspapers, the majority did so online. His seminar provided a thought-provoking conversation on keeping journalism alive.